It Follows begins with an extraordinary long take that tracks the movements of a frantic teenage girl, accompanied by disorienting music, set against a suburban street not unlike those of Haddonfield, Illinois. Indeed, much of David Robert Mitchell’s atmospheric film evokes the style and mood of John Carpenter and his slasher masterpiece, down to the calm camera movements and synth soundtrack. However, Mitchell isn’t satisfied with stylistic tributes to the 1980s alone, crafting It Follows into an art house horror-drama with a surprising amount of richness.
Mitchell’s skills as a writer are firmly on display, giving shape and depth to even the most minor characters, a feat nearly every film in the genre fails to accomplish. Maika Monroe fearlessly plays Jay, a college student who finds herself the victim of a supernatural stalker after an incident of strange sex with her then-boyfriend. Dialogue, often relegated to “plot development” status, still builds minor characters distinctly. Jay’s sister and her close friends aid her in her time of trauma, proving devoted to her and to solving this creepy mystery “it” following her everywhere. Mitchell and cinematographer Mike Gioulakis turn suburban Michigan into a gorgeous, often serene setting, juxtaposed strikingly with Jay’s terror and panic, all set to atmospheric synth cues straight out of the 1980s. Strangely enough, although Mitchell constructs scenes of terror and suspense with great prowess, It Follows is ultimately more effective as a compelling mystery and drama than as a pure horror film.
This isn’t to say Follows is devoid of its fair share of scares. Mitchell makes good use of the wonderful gift of widescreen, letting shots linger on Monroe’s face while emphasizing the expansive space behind and around her. John Carpenter, the master of atmosphere himself, would be proud of Mitchell’s creativity and composition behind the camera, maximizing his minimal budget for creepy, moody moments. It is not without its ill-judged moments. A sequence on a beach reveals what happens when Mitchell loses composure for a moment, jarring one out of the film for a few minutes before he can get the tone back under control. Regardless, it is undeniably creepy. For all of this creepiness, though, It Follows is never truly terrifying.
Luckily, it works wonderfully as a slice of unique coming-of-age character drama. Monroe’s marvelous work and Mitchell’s enthralling premise build a richness rarely seen in genre films of this budget. Art house stylization, visual symbols, motifs, and metaphor are littered throughout, creating an experience that is both intellectually and emotionally stimulating. The finale is a whirlwind of thrilling visual poetry, pulsing with evocative horror, and the last few minutes are a beautiful (if not frightening) denouement. It Follows takes a fresh look at fading innocence, young adulthood, and that pivotal moment where innocence lost meets one’s awareness of mortality.